Living in South Korea as an English teacher has been quite an adventure and it has enabled me to explore so many wonderful naturally beautiful places in this country that heavily thrives off of tradition and culture. Especially when wondering into the countryside when are surrounded by mountains and green all around. One would think, how peaceful and relaxing, right? It wasn’t until I was up in Gangwando province, which is located at the north-east corner of the county, for a weekend in fall that the concept of a quiet and beautiful weekend became a horrifying wake up call. As a friend and I were hiking around the woods, we stumbled upon a tightly secured and enclosed area with signs everywhere that read PRIVATE PROPERTY – DO NOT ENTER!
All we could hear was howling and barking nonstop behind this enclosed area but we couldn’t see the dogs. At first I didn’t think much of it since I was still new to Korea. A few weeks after was I made aware of the horrific dog meat trade that was very prominent throughout Korea in addition to several other countries such as China. With a sense of disbelief, shock, fear and sadness I realized that what I had seen was most likely the outside of a dog meat farm. Yes, a dog meat farm. I began to do more research about it, signed up to various social media groups to stay updated and was made aware of the this cruel, barbaric and outdated trade on a daily basis through emails asking me to sign petitions and support various animal rights efforts that were taking place at that time.
My initial reaction was, what on earth am I doing in Korea, a country so widely known and respected for its technological advances and innovations, a country that participates in such a practice? It was very difficult for me to go even one day without thinking about it. When I heard a dog bark, saw dogs abandoned on the streets or chained outside of homes or businesses all day and night every day I immediately panicked and thought, what is going to happen to that poor animal? It is very true and appropriately said that countries all over the world treat animals horribly with no acknowledgement of the pain and suffering that is being inflicted upon them, animal cruelty happens everywhere. It is a very sad but awful truth. I felt helpless and wanted to make efforts while I was here to become as active as possible with regards to animal rights.
I began to seek out shelters throughout different places in Korea that I could visit and volunteer and support them in any way I could. I was deeply saddened to see the conditions of some of these places because they don’t have much support but the people there were making very good efforts to care for the animals and protect them from the life they had before. I continue to ask myself, as I see different animal’s conditions, why people could possibly even think of mistreating animals in the way they do.
As a collective, people can make significant changes. During the Olympics in Korea in recent years, it was globally known that they were an active participant in the dog meat trade and with several public outcries, signed petitions and protests, laws were established and some dog meat places were shut down because they didn’t want the trade to tarnish their image on the world stage. Sadly, it does still exist in many places in Korea, typically in largely populated places like Seoul and Busan and the farms tend to be hidden away in the country, which they figure, out of sight, out of mind.
Coming from a nation where dogs are seen as man’s best friend, our favourite house pet, the addition to every big family, it was so upsetting to come to a new place and learn about what was happening here. The tradition of eating dog meat goes back a few hundred years in China, South Korea and many other Asian countries. A dog is viewed as an animal that can provide stamina, good health and energy when consumed, especially during the very hot summer season. Apparently if a dog endures a great deal of suffering before it is killed and/or boiled alive, it is said to bring about even more strength to the individual consuming it.
To me that sounds outrageous and very cruel. The dogs will be locked up tightly in small cages outside some stores or restaurants quite literally as a meal to be purchased, killed on the spot and served to the consumer. They are transported to and from these filthy dog farms by being thrown into metal cages with maybe half a dozen or more other dogs and are on the road to their final phase of suffering. The dogs are hung, boiled alive in a large pot, kicked, beaten and tortured in any way imaginable and what continues to boggle my mind is the look on the faces of those inflicting this unforgivable pain and torture – they have no remorse and are often times smiling as if it caused them some unusual form of entertainment.
Several of the dogs will have had collars on which indicates that many of them have been someone’s pet who had been stolen from a family to be sold into the dog meat trade at a market where it will be killed and eaten. In Korea specifically, one would find the Korean Jindogae dog more often than not on a dog farm, on a transport truck or being sold at a store for its meat, but there are definitely other breeds as well. The Jindogae dog incidentally is also a national treasure in Korea so I find it quite ironic that something that should be prized and protected is also on menu at a local dog market.
Most recently the Yulin Dog Festival took place in China, which is a celebration of the summer solstice when they gather thousands of dogs, sell them and cook them, sometimes they sell the body in its whole condition that people will eat. It is viewed as an annual cultural tradition and has caused several thousands of people to sign petitions and bring the heat on China for such an outrageous practice. Many will argue that if those who want this event to stop should also stop eating cows, pigs, and chickens among other animals and stop being hypocrites in the situation. This is a very true comment and that is an entire topic in and of itself that needs to be discussed on a global scale. The fact that many people view each animal differently rather than realizing that all animals experience pain which was recently proven in a study conducted by professionals.
All animals, similar to people, experience emotions that go far beyond what we can even fathom. They may not be able to express to us how they are feeling, but they cry and scream out, wale and express themselves through movements in their bodies when they are in pain. This discussion needs to be opened up amongst all governments and leaders who need to begin to consider how we are treating the nonhuman animals of the world on dog farms, dairy and meat farms, aquariums and the like. The experiences these animals endure are inhumane, cruel, barbaric and unnecessary. Our society has it so engrained into it that we are completely separate beings from nonhuman animals and that we share nothing, we experience nothing the same.
It goes beyond just the dog meat trade but animal rights in general. Billions of animals die every year because of human greed and selfishness. We cannot point fingers at just one country when this form of suffering happens all around us. Differences in how animals are treated and viewed will only begin when we realize the connection between what is on our dinner plates and those animals we see locked up in cages behind closed doors, the places where ad gag laws will prevent you from even seeing or knowing about. With more and more efforts and people investing their lives into making the world a more peaceful and compassionate place, changes are being made, sometimes slowly but nonetheless are being made.
The longer we leave this issue on the back burner and continue to ignore the screams, the cries and the excruciating pain, the worse it will get. I have hope that we will see a world where suffering is minimal and where nonhuman and human animals can coexist peacefully. It begins in your own backyard. Where you are living, there is inevitably going to be something going on whether it is a factory farm or slaughterhouse of some kind, there are always ways to get involved, raise awareness and do what you can.
Being in Korea, it has been difficult because your typical cat or dog are not usually treated or viewed as an animal you love, you care for and treat well, but more like a piece of garbage thrown out on the streets, stolen and sold to a market where they are to be killed right in front of each other. My level of compassion extends further than that of my human family and when I see suffering of an animal, it is like no other pain that I feel because I know this happens every day and that it’s so rampant. Unfortunately it has played a part in becoming very angry at the country I now live in and hasn’t left me with a great image of Korea.
When the people in this country demand change, fight for these animals and stop participating in the cruelty, there will be pressures on the government to make changes, these god awful places will shut down and there will no longer be millions of dogs who are kept on disgusting dog farms, crammed into filthy cages, bought at a store and hung or boiled alive for the sake of stamina and so called “health” benefits to our greedy culture. Keeping in mind, not all Korean people consume dog meat. Much of the Korean population is Buddhist so they live a lifestyle free of any suffering at all which includes nonhuman animals which is definitely a great mindset to have. In addition, many who are young either have dogs as pets or they would not want to consume something of this nature because it is made from dog. A common dish is dog meat soup which is called Bosintang. Around 2 million dogs die every year to fill these bowls of soup to cater those who especially demand it in the summer during the hottest days of the year similar to that of the Yulin Festival in China.
In Korea, there is a festival called Sambok/Boknal which means “three dog eating days” that takes place during 3 hot weekends in July and August. The people of Korea believe that if they consume tortured and severely beaten dogs (and cats) the temperature of their country will drop. There are several groups such as Guardians of Rescue, Save Korean Dogs and Human Society International who protest against this and although animal rights is not quite on the forefront of issues to be raised here in Korea, there are people who work tirelessly to raise awareness and stop this from happening. There is a woman in Korea by the name of Nami Kim who is always on the frontlines, she travels throughout Korea to dog meat farms in an effort to either buy the dogs to save them, and expose what happens. She also visits dog meat stores predominantly in Seoul and Busan to talk with the owners to work with them to stop what they are doing.
A ray of hope is held amongst Koreans who do not like this dish and/or do not support using dogs as a meat especially amongst younger generations who are absolutely repulsed by this concept. Based on what I have been told by young and middle aged Koreans is that this “tradition” may not be able to survive as so many people do not eat it and are disgusted by it. One day soon, I hope that there will be no more dogs in the window that are slated to feed this and other countries. There are also several opportunities to get in touch with the groups in Korea to rescue these dogs and adopt them from overseas so if you are looking to make a difference in the world and want a little furball to join your family, the need is great in South Korea. Korea seems to have made much progress over the last 50+ years with technology which is great, but that seems to have blinded people from what is actually happening to these dogs and the more people are aware, the more action they will take.
In conclusion, this was a wake-up call for me, an industry I had not known anything about before coming to Korea and being prevented from hiking down a trail due to the high security and enclosure of the dog farm. I will continue to fight to help put an end to this trade so that the poor dogs (and cats) who fall to the hands of these horrible people.
Even after leaving Korea, I will not close my eyes to what I have learned here and I will hope to see Korea making changes to protect the dogs, get these people out of this trade and support their efforts elsewhere where there will be no suffering or pain involved. Korea has the potential to be a world leader in many ways, it has to begin with animal rights laws and policy implementations that are actually monitored and are effective. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Ghandi